Hyundai’s Equus and the Genesis sedan it’s based on have helped take the brand from value-conscious import to offering actual luxury, even if the big rear-drive cars still don’t offer the cachet or style of the Germans they think they’re going after. The Equus is unchanged for 2015, although the Genesis enters its second generation, which serves to highlight some of the larger car’s minor faults, even though it was recently refreshed. While the Genesis is more of a driver’s car, the stretched Equus focuses on rear-seat luxuries, including the luxury of space.
A 2014 once-over brought the Equus a more cohesive design, new materials, new active-safety features, and even more high-end luxury features. That said, it’s still based on the first-generation Genesis and meanwhile that car has made strides in standard equipment, technology, and suspension.
The powertrain is still shared between the Equus and V-8-powered Genesis, which happens to be a good thing. The 429-horsepower ‘Tau’ V-8 (420 in Genesis sedans) is fitted with an eight-speed automatic transmission that you can shift manually when desired. The V-8 has all the latest technologies, such as direct injection, dual continuously variable valve timing, and tuned variable induction, and the combination can hustle this sedan to 60 mph in about six seconds—accompanied by, as we’ve found in previous model years, an atypical (for a luxury sedan) brawny burble and ripple. Fuel economy ratings are 15 mpg city, 23 highway. In fact, the V-8 has enough torque (376 lb-ft) to silently break the low-grip tires loose when you stomp on it from a stop; this behavior is reminiscent of a big rear-drive German, but perhaps one from about a decade ago.
The Equus leans toward the luxury side of the line that divides crisp handling response and a comfortable, isolated ride. An air suspension on all Equus models includes Sport and Normal modes, which now have a noticeable amount of separation. It’s quite softly sprung in Comfort mode, while its Sport mode is still not quite to the Lexus LS F Sport’s level of tautness–not to mention anything floated in on a freighter from Germany or the U.K.
There are two trim levels available, Signature and Ultimate. Even the Equus Signature comes as an extremely well equipped luxury car, with more standard features than many models from prestige marques. HID headlamps, LED front fog lights and exterior lamps, rain-sensing wipers, water-repelling front glass, heated power-folding mirrors, and a heated windshield are all standard; and inside the Signature includes leather upholstery, heated-and-cooled front seats, a 12-way memory driver’s seat, full steering-wheel controls, a sunroof, tri-zone automatic climate control, real wood leather accents, smart cruise control, a power rear sunshade, proximity entry, push-button start, HomeLink, and a 17-speaker Lexicon surround sound system. A navigation system with XM traffic and weather data, Gracenote, and 30GB storage is also included.
Limousine-like Equus Ultimate models on top of all that add a rear entertainment system with dual 9.2-inch screens, rear-seat audio and climate controls, upgraded instrument-cluster displays, power door closures, a power rear seat, cooled rear seats, a cornering camera, power side sunshades, and a head-up display.
The Equus does well in IIHS crash-testing, and the recent update brought more standard safety features. A Blind-Spot Detection system is standard, and on the Ultimate model there’s a head-up display. Ultimate models also include a multi-view camera system. Both models include a Rear Cross-traffic Alert system, and a lane departure warning system is available, with audible and visual warnings and even a haptic seatbelt warning. Smart cruise control is available as well. Nine airbags (including a driver’s knee bag), active front-seat head restraints, and Brake Assist are included across the lineup.
Interior / exterior
The Equus definitely flies under the radar. It and the first Genesis had no cues to pull from when they launched, as they were the first large rear-drive sedans out of South Korea. As such, the styling is a subdued mix of elements that grace a relatively standard big-sedan silhouette.
With no heritage of its own, the Equus has had to take inspiration from the other big luxury marques. The Equus drapes some familiar themes over its large-car body–the wide grille could come from Mercedes, the rear quarter panels have stampings like those on a Cadillac or Buick, and the headlamps have more than a passing resemblance to those on the Lexus LS. It’s by no means an assertive look like the ones carved out by Jaguar and Cadillac–but sometimes drama is just drama, and not everyone’s interested in that.
The Equus’ cabin was reworked for last year, gaining a few distinctive touches. The finishes have been removed of their last vaguely dated cues, and the grades of wood and leather have never been finer. We slowly became accustomed to the rotating-wheel controls on the new steering wheel, too. As before, there’s some delicately applied subtext–like the winged metallic trim that surrounds the dash vents, and the big LCD screen that glows with higher-resolution graphics.
The Equus handles straight-line speed with quiet grace, but it’s not quite up to par in terms of transient dynamics or suspension balance, at least when compared to the German competition it’s ultimately aiming for.
Strong, refined acceleration is the hallmark of the Equus. The 5.0-liter V-8 surges forward with 429 horsepower on tap, and it’s coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission that shifts invisibly, making the most of its available power. The rear end of the car can shift invisibly too if you mash the gas too hard, causing the engine’s 367 lb-ft of torque to overwhelm the all-season tires. If you maintain traction, acceleration to 60 mph takes about six seconds, in the ballpark of the base Lexus LS–the car the Equus compares with most directly–and not far off the mark set by cars like the base twin-turbocharged Mercedes S 550. The drivetrain hustles this big sedan up to highway speeds quickly, accompanied by a brawny V-8 burble and ripple, something you might not expect from a car with such a heavy luxury bent.
Despite a recent round of retuning for its adaptive air suspension, the Equus still doesn’t come very close to matching the best of the group in handling. It’s most like the Lexus here again, with even softer settings in its “comfort” mode; it rides with pillowy compliance, and not quite enough control. The air suspension feels more confident in its sport setting, though it’s still not going to be confused with something as athletic as a Jaguar XJ. It feels secure on high-speed sweepers and stable on the interstate, but in tighter corners, the Equus answers with lots of body lean and nose dive.
Overall, the sense of driving refinement is excellent. Even with the 20-inch wheels and tires there’s no harshness, and road and wind noise are kept away from the cabin.
Unlike most cars in this segment (and others) the Equus retains hydraulic steering. Its electrohydraulic setup is better attuned to more sporty driving, pairing the linear, consistent feel that hydraulics allow with weighty on-center feel, providing a feeling of precision and making it easy to place in tight places.
Comfort and Quality
Although the Equus remains Hyundai’s flagship, the recently redone Genesis is surpassing it in many ways now. Still, the Equus has the space of a Lexus LS along with many of the amenities buyers of big luxury sedans expect.
The Equus’ front seats aren’t heavily bolstered or overly firm. They’re ventilated and heated, and incorporate a massaging function to keep drivers feeling fresher over long distances. It’s mildly effective, but we’d ask for more under-leg support too–the Equus’ seats don’t have the extending bottom cushions that we like so much on Mercedes and BMW flagships.
Controls for most interior functions are centralized in the Driver Information System, which uses a knob controller like the ones associated with BMW’s iDrive, Mercedes’s COMAND, and Audi’s MMI, and it’s as fiddly as those control systems were early on. It disallows any touchscreen engagement, and takes some time to get used to its operation over the infotainment and climate systems. There’s a redundant screen in the gauges that can show something different from what’s on the main central display, which helps minimize the confusion at times.
The rear seat is perhaps the focus of the Equus, especially when compared to the smaller Genesis. Both Equus Signature and Ultimate models come standard with a three-person bench rear seat and a console that folds down from the middle position. With rake adjustment (as well as ventilation and lumbar control on Ultimate models) the outboard seats are a step above the seats in most other competitively priced vehicles, but lack the complete first-class reclining chairs (with tray tables!) of the new S-Class, for example. There’s lots of legroom and headroom by conventional standards, and the Equus is wide enough to fit three across.Expectations are met up close as well; walnut or birch trim accents the instrument panel, and the cabin is trimmed out with fine leather. The headliner is sueded, just like the roof in a top-line Jaguar, and the center console is framed in wood, with matte-metallic accents. It’s all coordinated quite well, and continues the understated look of the rest of the vehicle.
While the Genesis doesn’t offer the rear-seat space or passenger-coddling features of the Equus, the smaller sedan has made great strides in interior materials. It will probably be a couple years before the Equus catches up to the less-expensive model in terms of finish.
The Equus has scored well in the crash tests it has been subjected to; the federal government hasn’t chosen to test the largest Hyundai, likely because it doesn’t sell in large quantities. It also brings with it a useful array of safety technology, and favorably compares with some of the luxury cars it portends to compete with.
Although the Equus still hasn’t been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, it’s been given top ‘good’ scores in every category of testing it has been subjected to by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS); the IIHS hasn’t put it through the newer small front overlap test.
In addition to the usual airbags and stability control , the Equus also has front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, a rearview camera, and a lane-departure warning system. The latter system tightens the seatbelt when it detects a drift out of the driving lane. We’re not the biggest fans of these systems, because the haptic feedback can be distracting in sporty driving, yet turning it off defeats its very purpose. A collision-warning system, and blind-spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts are included on all Equuses. Ultimate models also get a surround-view camera and a head-up display.
Some offerings in this class do offer all-wheel drive–thought of in some very limited situations as a safety feature–although that’s not an option on the Equus. The Genesis does offer all-wheel drive for those who want a big Hyundai with all-weather traction.
Even in its base configuration, the Equus is Hyundai’s most lavishly equipped vehicle. Still, it does without a few items recently added to the less expensive Genesis sedan.
For $62,450, the Equus Signature is anything but basic. It includes the usual power features, cruise control, air conditioning . But it continues with a full-boat approach, with standard leather upholstery and wood trim; heated and cooled front seats; a heated steering wheel; a moonroof; three-zone climate control; adaptive control for the cruise; a rearview camera; front and rear parking sensors; a pre-collision warning system; and high-intensity discharge headlamps with LED running lights.
On the connectivity front, the Equus includes USB/iPod inputs and Bluetooth for phone and audio, all of which are integrated into the infotainment controller–one of the knob-driven systems that doesn’t respond to screen touches and blocks many functions when the car is moving. A navigation system with real-time traffic is standard, as is a glorious 598-watt Lexicon audio system with 17 speakers. Hyundai’s BlueLink telematics system is also standard across the board.
On the $69,700 Equus Ultimate, a finer Lexicon audio system is standard, along with surround-view cameras; a cooled bin between the rear seats; power-recline rear seats with power headrests; a soft-close system for doors and the trunklid; power rear side sunshades; a twin-screen rear-seat entertainment system; and a 12.3-inch-wide TFT screen that replaces the gauges with beautifully rendered digital replicas.
Because the Equus is such a low-volume seller, and since it is so well-equipped from the get go, there are no additional options or packages available. Just choose your trim level and a shade of white/gray/black.
Hyundai understands that Equus owners will have a completely different level of expectations compared to Accent or Elantra shoppers, so it’s offering specially tailored showrooms, at-home demos, and personalized valet services, with the vehicle being picked up and dropped off to you when it needs service.
And those features that haven’t yet migrated up from the Genesis? There’s a self-steering function enabled by electric power steering as well as automatic headlights. Both sound better than they work in practice, so hopefully they’ll be improved before they make an appearance in the largest Hyundai.
Fuel Economy & MPG
The Equus is neither efficient nor a gas-guzzler when judged against other large, rear-drive sedans . Gas mileage is a lower priority than luxury in the Hyundai Equus, but given its relative discount status, it may still factor into the decision.
The 2015 Equus receives EPA-estimated fuel economy of 15 miles per gallon city and 23 miles per gallon highway, or 18 mpg combined. Its sole source of power is a 5.0-liter V-8, and since it’s coupled to an eight-speed automatic, the numbers are about as good as they can get. Hyundai does build hybrid vehicles , but no such model is planned for the Equus lineup.
In real-world use, we’ve seen as much as 18 mpg in a mix of canyon runs and interstate strafes.
Author: Marty Padgett
Photo source: Gary Rome Hyundai